Children And Online Safety 

The Internet has today become extremely popular. It is a tool that people use to learn, teach, socialize and ofcourse to do business. It is not just the number of Internet users that has increased, the age at which children are exposed to the Internet has steadily decreased too. With this comes the issue of online safety. The interactive nature of this medium fascinates young users. The problem is that there are a group of Internet users who feed on the Internet for a living, these are the bad elements. They could steal your bank information, entice children to do inappropriate things and so on.

There are certain conditions under which, the online safety of children becomes even more unsure and dangerous. When parents do not have sufficient time for their children or when parents, don't know much about the dangers of the internet, the child becomes even more prone to face the dangers of the online world. This article draws attention to some of the harsh realities of the virtual world. 

A few decades ago, a young guy who wanted to express his love to a girl, would send her a letter. The postal system was the medium and in many cases, this intense love was forgotten by the guy and the girl even before the letter reached it's destination.

Hop a few decades ahead and you had email. Click away your love on the keyboard and hit 'Send'. The email reached the receiver in a few seconds. The reply could come instantly, if the receiver did not reply even after a few days it meant that you needed to find another email address to express your love. This was instant, it kept pace with the fast city life. And you never had to curse the postal system for it's delays.

Computers got smarter and you had live text messaging. Instant messengers where, two people would be sitting on computers in different parts of the world. You typed a message that was instantly broadcast on the screen of the receiver who could in turn, type out an instant reply.

Next were online chatrooms, where you ould talk using text messaging to more than one person at the same time. This was almost like broadcasting a message. Children spent hours at a stretch chatting in these vitrual chatrooms.

A few years later two major developments changed the face of online chatting like never before. Audio and video communications were enabled in most Instant Messaging (IM) applications. No typing, no need to describe your appearance just speak out. Your message was broadcast in sound and the receiver could even see you as you spoke out.

All the above developments came with one pleasant surprise, dropping prices. Computers became cheaper, microphones and web cameras followed the same price trend. Laptops infact started to be produced with all these parnaphelia built right into the computer. Attractive prices made computers affordable to everyone, every household could have at least one and upto 3 or even 4 computers. Computers were purchased, gifted and even demanded by young children! Parents willingly initiated children into the world of computers.

On the left panel, we showed you the great strides taken by technology and the Internet. Let us now discuss how these developments can be unsafe for children. The idea is not to keep children away from technology, infact this article is aimed at educating parents and elders regarding the online safety factor for children. Children can do great things with the internet and computers, all this with a little help from elders.

Personal details: Children should be advised not to reveal their actual name, address or even phone numbers over the Internet. There are several cases where computer classes in schools have taught children how to open free email accounts like those provided by Hotmail, Yahoo and MSN. There is nothing wrong with this, but the child was asked to input actual information related to name and address!  In many cases the name of the school and address were also revealed by the child. This is totally uncalled for and could be dangerous. Schools should infact warn children not to use their real name or address when accessing the net.

Photographs: This is another thing that children should be warned about. Digital images can now be easily saved and transferred across the Internet. You do not even need a conventional camera to shoot a photograph. Cell phones and computers today have cameras that can take both still and video images. Revealing images of the family, child or even the home to strangers is undesirable.

Audio and video chats: It is both easy and entertaining to conduct a one to one or one to many, chat over the Internet. Children are easily carried away with the interactive nature of such chats and can get carried away. The chances of revealing personal information or even personal and private images increases. Members at the other end of the chat can easily save the image or video of the conversation. This can be passed on to others or worse still, posted on public forums.

Conversations that include questions like, where are you now? Are you alone? Where is your school? etc might seem unharmful but can be a cause for grave concern in many cases.

Personal meetings: This needs to be stressed over and over again. This is where the online safety of children is most likely to be compromised. Children should be warned never to personally meet anyone who they have contacted over the Internet. Your young girl might believe that she is talking to another young girl over the Internet. But that 'young girl' might infact be a male, a sexual pevert waiting to destroy young children. Be very clear and firm with your child about this, no personal meetings with people that the child has met over the Internet.

Time consideration: Children today seek privacy right from the moment that they can tie their own shoe laces! While you need not always dampen their desire for independence, try to convince your child to refrain from locking the door when using the Internet. Set some time beyond which the child does not have access to the Internet in the room.

A technical device could help you control the hours of the day during which the child can use the Internet. Small routers and managed hub switches are not very expensive and provide a good solution. The child can continue to use the computer, only Internet access would be denied during specific time slots.

Another idea could be to have a common computer in the living room where, the child could access the Internet. None of these options is going to be easy to implement but, they are worth trying.

Behavioural changes: Your child spends hours on the computer and shows some clear changes in behaviour, this could be random mood swings or a depressed and withdrawn mood. It is time to have a serious talk with the child, do not avoid it just because it would create a small rumpus at home. Take whatever help you need and seek professional help if required.

There are cases where children have robbed valuable items from home and handed them over to people, who they have contacted over the Internet! This could cause the child to feel guilty or scared. A 10 year old girl was severely stressed after her Internet friend tried to blackmail her. The 15 year old boy that she was chatting online with, threatened to reveal some of her private images that he had saved during their chat! A young girl in the U.S committed suicide after she was jilted by her online lover. She was given to believe that, the guy she was talking to was a handsome 18 year old basket ball player. Her 'lover' was infact a 40 year old woman, who pretended to be a young man.

There surely are many more dangers that a child could be exposed to online. This is the bad side of the Internet and can be avoided with the help of parents, teachers and other elders. The law will also need to come down heavily on cases that involve online crimes. If you have any comments related to this article, please email us at We will love to hear your opinion or share your experience.